Scott County IAGenWeb

Sunday, November___, ___ (c. 1900)

The Democrat

These Sturdy Pioneers are the Ancestors of Our Present Ladies’ Industrial Relief Society                  

                In its issue of Nov. 6, The Democrat printed the accompanying photograph taken in Davenport in the early 60’s. At the time of its publication there was considerable discussion as to the identity of the seven women appearing in the photo. A number of the older residents of the city recognized a part of the faces but it remained for Miss J. E. Sanders of Muscatine, to fully identify all of them. Moreover, Miss Sanders is quite positive of the correctness of her identification. Two of the women in the picture are near relatives of Miss Sanders. She also possesses one of the original photos.

                In the photograph, taken in September or October, 1863, the ladies are, from left to right: Mrs. Charles Leslie, Miss Mary Shelton, Dr. M. W. Porter, Mrs. Patience V. Newcomb, Mrs. Annie Wittenmyer, Miss Mary McKibben, and Mrs. Alfred Sanders. The officers were: President--Mrs. Annie Wittenmyer; vice president—Mrs. Patience V. Newcomb; secretary—Miss Mary Shelton; treasurer—Miss Mary McKibben; board of trustees; Mrs. Charles Leslie, Mrs. Alfred Sanders, and Dr. M. W. Porter. Excepting Mrs. Wittenmyer, of Keokuk; Miss Shelton of Burlington, and Miss McKibben of Mt. Pleasant, all were prominent citizens of Davenport.

                There are at present three of these photos in existence, as far as known. As previously stated Miss Sanders possesses one of them. Another neatly framed adorns the walls of the Davenport Ladies’ Industrial Relief headquarters on West Sixth street. A third is in the possession of Mrs. Anna Davis.

                At the time that the Democrat first published the photo, little did this paper realize that the picture would revive some very important ancient history. It is now revealed that the seven women herein shown, were in reality the founders of our present Ladies’ Industrial Relief society. They were responsible for the founding of the Soldiers’ Orphan’s home in this city, now known as the State Orphan’s home. Some years after the close of the war the name Soldiers’ Relief was dropped and the society rechristened. In 1869 it was designated the Ladies’ Christian association and in 1886 it developed into the Ladies’ Industrial Relief society, under which name it is known today. Mrs. C A. Ficke is the present head of this most worthy organization.

                It will therefore be seen that the Ladies’ Industrial Relief society as it exists today, is an outgrowth of the Soldiers’ Relief society organized during the Civil war, which in turn was a continuation of the Ladies’ Benevolent society organized about 1849.

                These devoted women who banded together for benevolent work and whose self-denying labors had sent aid and comfort to the soldiers in the field during the dark days of civil strife, stood ready when the need for such aid no longer existed, for any humane work, and in 1869, actuated by a desire to improve the moral, social and spiritual condition of homeless women, they decided to provide and maintain for them a Home.

                They organized under the name of Ladies’ Christian association. A constitution was adopted April 24, 1869, and soon after 30 ladies pledged their influence to the cause.

                They made an earnest effort to secure and maintain a Home. A building on the corner of Ripley and Fifth streets was rented, furnished, a matron employed, and a number of homeless women given a welcome and a refuge till they could care for themselves.

                But despite all effort, the ladies failed for want of material aid and on Dec. 1, 1869, the Home was closed. The furniture was sold to pay off the endebtedness of the association.

                However, these indomitable spirits remained inactive but a short time. The news of the great Chicago fire in 1871 was a bugle note to which they responded all, with all the zeal of “war times.”


Rest Again

                Having answered to this call they rested again till the autumn of 1872, when a new impulse and a new direction was given to benevolent work the intelligent thought of Mrs. James Armstrong, of the Sixth Ward. In her care for the poor, finding more than she could do, an aided, she called a meeting of the ladies of her ward and proposed that they be organized for relief work.

                The ladies’ heretofore members of the Soldiers’ Relief society and of the Christian association of 1869, learning of this asked that the plan of work be enlarged to cover the needs of the whole city.

                This was assented to, and a call issued to the women of the city thru the Young Men’s Christian association. The call was responded to, and the new form of organization then effected was called the “Ladies’ Christian association, auxiliary to the Young Men’s Christian association”. The object as stated, was to relieve te wants of the poor of the city.

                By a change of constitution in 1876, the connection with the Young Men’s Christian association was discontinued, the object of the Ladies’ Christian association remaining the same.

                In 1878 a new departure was made in the method of helping the poor, and the Industrial School was begun. The first department opened was the sewing school for the girls of needy families, to which in 1887 was added a cooking school.

                In contemplation of this last undertaking, and to avoid being confused with a later organization of similar name, it was deemed fitting to change the name of the association to one that should, as nearly as possible….*.


                *The final two paragraphs have mostly disintegrated over time, but the last paragraph does contain a reference to Phoebe Sudlow as possibly becoming president of the Ladies’ Christian association.

Following is a list of the names of the pioneer women in the picture that goes with the newspaper article titled: “These Sturdy Pioneers are the Ancestors of Our Present Ladies’ Industrial Relief Society”. From left to right:

1.       Mrs. Charles Lesslie, Trustee

2.       Miss Mary Shelton , Burlington, IA., Secretary

3.       Dr. M. W. Porter, Trustee

4.       Mrs. Daniel Newcomb, Vice President

5.       Mrs. Annie Whittenmyer, President

6.       Miss M. McKibben, Mt. Pleasant, Ia., Treasurer

7.       Mrs. Alfred Sanders, Trustee


                Written on the back of the photograph with the list of names is “The First Board of Officers of The Iowa Soldiers Orphans Home. Sept. or Oct. 1863, Davenport, Iowa”.

© 2001, Elaine Rathmann